EDITORIAL: Councils flouting Compact makes for gloomy start

Lucy Maggs

Government needs to demonstrate that it is taking the needs of the voluntary sector seriously and does not just see it as a cheap and easy alternative to running public services. It is keen to contract out services to the sector and demands that organisations should be more accountable and transparent to do this.

But there are still problems with some government contracts, particularly those between local authorities and charities - core costs are still not being met, and volunteers are still not taken seriously. If government wants the sector to be more professional it needs to show it understands these problems.

Making sure the Compact is enforced would be a way of achieving this.

The Compact has been in existence for five years now and is an agreement between government and the voluntary and community sector that aims to improve the relationship. Yet there are still 50 local authorities that have not signed up to it and there is not a way that they can be forced to do so.

There are a number of cases where the Compact has come through, and contracts have been amended to fit within its guidelines. But, as it is not enforceable in any way, there is little charities can do if local authorities choose to flout it.

The quality of public services is of great public concern and there is no doubt that the voluntary sector is playing a large, and growing part in their delivery. Figures from NCVO and CAF, due to be released next year, will show that a huge amount of money goes to voluntary organisations through government contracts.

So if the government wants to show that improving the quality of services is at the top of its agenda, enforcing the Compact is a good starting point. It may be unrealistic to demand that it should be legally binding but perhaps government could start with demanding that local authorities sign up and report annually on how they are keeping to it.

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